Six quirky finds at Gulfood this year, from cactus water to instant truffle

Thousands of brands are showcasing their products at the annual Dubai event

Pure Kaktai organic cactus water on display at Gulfood in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
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From bottled cactus water claiming to have a host of health benefits to instant truffle in a cup, this year's Gulfood in Dubai is full of wonderful, even wacky treats.

The food and drink trade show, held annually at Dubai World Trade Centre, returned to the city on Monday, gathering thousands of brands from more than 100 countries under one roof. It runs until Friday.

Although a venue for trade deals, the event has also become a foodie wonderland with international brands showcasing their culinary products – from countless Italian cheeses to Thai chilli oils and faux meat innovations.

Product displays aside, visitors can also sign up for chef masterclasses and culinary contests. Several restaurant across the city, from Jun's to Folly, are also hosting special dinners.

Here's a summary of some of the coolest and quirkiest products we found this year – all of which have yet to launch on UAE shelves.

Cactus water

Aloe vera drinks, mostly from Asian producers, have gained popularity over the last decade. Now, another atypical beverage is being made, this time out of prickly pear.

Spanish brand Pure Kaktai utilises both the prickly pear pad and fruit to make a ready-to-drink bottled “cactus water”. It comes in three flavours: pure cactus, jalapeno and ginger-lime.

The drink is made using the plant's nutrient content, including its fibre and plant pigments known for their antioxidant properties.

The drink is naturally low in calories and company says cactus water helps to reduce inflammation. According to Healthline, more research is needed to fully understand the impact of cactus juice on human health, but it is nonetheless safe to consume.

Watermelon crisps

Healthy snacks are not going anywhere, as evidenced by the host of products on display at this year's edition.

Thai manufacturer Chin Huay has launched its own version using watermelon – dehydrating the watery fruit, then air-frying it with a small amount of vegetable oil until it is crispy. The plant-based snack retains the fruit's sweet flavour and it is healthier than starchy produce such as potatoes.

The Thai product was launched in December last year and has received numerous food accolades, including from the prestigious SIAL Innovation Awards in Shanghai.

Instant truffle cup

Typically a luxurious culinary item, truffles have made their way into the mainstream as a tasty flavouring element for several ready-to-eat foods.

Jimmy Tartufi, an Italian brand specialising in the delicious fungus, has launched a product that puts black truffle in an instant macaroni and cheese cup. It works just like instant noodles – just pour hot water, wait for a few minutes and voila, you have a truffled-flavoured mac and cheese.

There are also mushroom risotto and mashed potatoes variants.

Banana flour

Made from green bananas in the Philippines, banana flour by Hijo Superfoods is a gluten-free alternative to the whole wheat version. When cooked, the mild banana flavour turns slightly earthy.

The fruit-derived flour is rich in prebiotic fibres that can boost gut health and aid in proper digestion. Green bananas, a major industry in the south-east Asian nation, are an excellent source of resistant starch that can help manage blood sugar levels and metabolism.

It can be used in baked goods, soups, juices and smoothies.

Instant taho

Taho is a popular dessert in South-east Asia, particularly in the Philippines, where it is typically consumed for breakfast or an afternoon snack. It is made of soft silken tofu, with tapioca pearls and syrup.

Outside of the Philippines, it can be difficult to find the sweet treat, and this product might address just that. The culinary invention is a ready-to-eat packed version of taho that can be stored long-term. The main ingredients are already assembled – all it takes is dousing it with hot water to achieve a soft, jelly-like consistency.

Spreadable uni butter

Uni butter is not exactly new, but it has yet to achieve mainstream fame in the UAE. Uni, or sea urchin in Japanese, is a popular delicacy in East Asia and it is also considered a gourmet ingredient used in fine dining.

Kita-Sankiru Factory from Japan has created a spreadable uni butter that is easy to incorporate in everyday meals. It can be eaten as is, or over toast because of its form. It has a briny flavour, with a kick of umami and adds richness to a dish..

Updated: February 20, 2024, 2:33 AM